Updated at: 01/30/2013 6:37 PM
By PAUL NEWBERRY
Michael Phelps is getting serious about his golf game.
The winner of a record 18 gold medals in Olympic swimming, Phelps signed on with Ping to provide his clubs starting with an appearance Wednesday in the Phoenix Open pro-am.
Phelps got a tour of Ping’s Arizona facilities, where he was fitted for a set of clubs that accommodate his 6-foot-4 height, long arms and large hands. He’s already noticed a big improvement in the flight of his ball.
"It’s pretty wild," he told The Associated Press. "It’s crazy to think this sport is so technical. A lot of sports are very technical, but one of the (Ping) guys said there’s 50-something different shafts they can put on the clubs. I’m used to having a pair of goggles, a small, medium or large swim cap, and a jammer to put on, and that’s it."
Ping added a few special touches to Phelps’ clubs, including accents in both gold and red, white and blue.
"We’ve custom-built his clubs to ensure he has every chance to improve, and we believe he’ll dedicate himself to golf with the same intensity he gave to swimming," said John A. Solheim, the company’s chairman and CEO. "His global presence as a golfer will bring Ping tremendous exposure and just as importantly, shed additional light on the game in general."
Phelps played with Masters champion Bubba Watson in the pro-am.
"You can see he’s an athlete and he’s competitive, so he could be good if he practiced and put some time into it," Watson said. "Any athlete of that level has a chance to be good at another sport."
Phelps’ tee shot on the par-3 16th hit the green, but rolled off the front amid boos from the rowdy fans on the stadium hole.
"I just feel like heartbeat firing through my shirt," Phelps said. "I felt my heart was going to jump out of my chest. It was something that was pretty cool, something I’ve never seen before and something I’ve never experienced.
"I was very nervous and my club was like shaking as I’m over the ball. I just pretty much had to try to swing the club as fast as I could. But it’s wild. I have never heard people boo you, but I’m sure it’s happened, my face is just under water. So it was a little different experience. Hopefully, I have a chance to come back and play again."
Phelps has been working with renowned coach Hank Haney for an eight-episode series on the Golf Channel that begins Feb. 25. While the swimmer-turned-golfer is not sure how far his new sport can take him, he’s sure enjoying the ride so far.
"You can’t put limits on anything," Phelps said. "There’s so much I could do. Maybe I can get good enough where I can make the Olympics in golf."
The sport is joining the Olympic program at the 2016 Rio Games.
"Hey, you never know," Phelps said, chuckling. "Being a golfer at the Olympics would be kind of fun."
AP Sports Writer John Nicholson in Scottsdale, Ariz., contributed to this report.
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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)